Many thanks to Collette for this very detailed trip report:
This information is from our trip in July 2016. We travelled for 2 weeks, the first week by local buses, the second week we rented a car. We were very pleased with the Bradt guide (as always!) It covered all aspects of the trip, was accurate and we would have been very lost without it!
Collecting Permits from the RDB
Collecting permits from the RDB for gorillas was very difficult for us. We paid in advance through the RDB after we reserved by email. Arriving at the Kigali office on a Sunday (they were supposed to be open 8am – 12pm on Sundays) there was nobody there. Luckily we waited until around 10am as we kept trying to call numbers for different offices, when someone turned up. However, the system wouldn’t work to confirm permits and she said she had called the Musanze office and arranged for us to collect them there. We arrived in Musanze by bus, went to the RDB office and they knew nothing about it. They said they didn’t have internet and we would have to go to Kinigi to collect them. Then we took a bus & moto taxi to get to the Kinigi office to confirm permits. Luckily we managed to pay the extra charge incurred by the bank (+$35 USD) and get the permits there, which of course, was a bit of a panic after paying all that money up front!
The group we ended up seeing were the Isabukuru, I believe we saw around 8 of them. They were not listed in the guidebook so I’m assuming they are a more recent group. I wish I had listened to the advice about taking gardening gloves, ouch!
We had also reserved Chimp permits but due to the system issues at the Kigali office we were told we would have to wait to get to Nyungwe NP to print these. We checked at the Musanze & Kinigi offices but they couldn’t help. We arrived in Nyungwe to find they had not reserved our permits at all. Luckily there were 2 spaces left which we managed to get in time! However, the card machine didn’t work at the Nyungwe RDB office so it’s definitely advisable to bring plenty of cash as there are no free activities and there is no way to get cash out without a 2 hour round trip. (Also, despite all the tea farms there was nowhere to drink tea which we found bizarre!)
Car Rental, Akagera NP
We rented a car for our second week through a local car hire company called Self Drive Rwanda (Vigo Express Ltd). Unfortunately, while driving in Akagera NP we drove through a rocky section (on one of the recommended routes from the Akagera NP Guidebook we bought on arrival – between points 22 to 24 on the map – Kitabili Loop) and a rock impacted the underneath of the car and caused oil to leak out. We ended up stuck merely a couple of kms from the park headquarters but couldn’t phone any Rwandan numbers as the phone network kept switching to Tanzania (country codes didn’t help!) so ended up having to call the British embassy in Kigali (via London) to get them to call the park HQ to send out their recovery team to tow us back to base! (We were tempted to get out and walk but given the crazy elephant we had seen the day before decided against this!) To make matters worse, the car hire company claimed that their insurance didn’t cover this and that we were liable to pay £1300 to replace half the engine…We had checked the insurance documents beforehand and it had all seemed ok.
We met the manager of the company who was rather intimidating and we refused to pay them more than the excess until we had obtained legal advice of our own. In the end, we paid a smaller settlement once we were back in the UK via PesaPal. I was very surprised how expensive it was to rent cars through the tour agencies. It seems there is not a cheap way to travel to the National Parks.
Both of these websites seem to belong to Self Drive Rwanda (Vigo Express Ltd). They have since updated their policy to omit all mention of what their insurance covers…
Mutware, Akagera NP
The day before the car incident, we paid for a guide to accompany us. He took us to see one of the elephants and I must admit, it was a rather scary, but incredible experience. After stopping to admire the elephant for a while, our guide told us to go, and that in doing so we must put our foot down and drive past as quickly as possible. This of course disturbed the elephant more as his ears flapped and we feared he would charge. We later found out it was the famous Mutware, known for violent outbursts, knocking cars over and dragging them into lakes! In hindsight I would have suggested going back the over way. In other words, give the elephants their space…
Umubano Tours, Musanze
In Musanze, it was difficult to find Umubano Tours as the office has changed location. Some friendly guys at the petrol station made a few calls and they came to meet us. There was mention of them having an office nearby but we never got to see it. It seems it’s best to just call and get them to meet you at your accommodation instead. They transported us to & from the gorillas without any issues though.
Banana Beer Brewery, Musanze
While staying at Hotel Muhabura in Musanze, we asked where we would be able to visit without our own transport. We were recommended visiting the local banana beer factory (tastes more like wine!) where we went to by moto taxi. When we arrived, we were asked to visit the boss and explain why we were there; presumably they don’t tend to receive independent tourists. Nonetheless, we were shown around and they insisted on giving us 6 bottles to take with us, free of charge! It was a great experience, if not a little unusual. We would recommend it as their working environment was phenomenally fast paced, it was very interesting and would be worth them charging for tours.
Africana Bistro, Musanze
We stopped by for a drink in the afternoon but it seemed as though we were really inconveniencing them. She said they were open but there weren’t any menus and it wasn’t clear whether they offered food later on. We couldn’t see any pastries or mention of snacks and there was nobody else there.
We were surprised by Musanze as it didn’t seem comparable to its description in the guidebook. It didn’t feel like much of a hub as we couldn’t seem to find many other eateries and there didn’t seem to be anywhere we could wander to. Whenever we walked along the street we seemed to encounter a new group of friends wanting our email addresses to practice their English (both children and adults). Also, we were taken aback by the heavy military presence here. It was hard not to notice being surrounded by armed soldiers in bushes and even on the hotel grounds. Apparently there is a military training camp here? We were very glad we chose to stay in Hotel Muhabura, it was the perfect base. Aside from this it was very difficult to find anything to see or do without our own transport or prior arrangements.
KCCEM, Nyungwe National Park
In Nyungwe National Park, it was very difficult to find the KCCEM accommodation as it is no longer signposted (assuming it was before?) After much driving back and forth, asking locals and calling them, we eventually found that it was down a sidetrack signposted for the Kitabi Tea Company!
Discover Rwanda Hostel, Kigali
Unfortunately this hostel has changed location and was not in great condition. It was very difficult to find but the taxi driver managed to call them and find their new address (it may be on their website?) The room was very overpriced considering there was no hot water, cockroaches in the shower and it was generally very cell-like. It was very much a shame as the other Discover Rwanda Hostels we stayed at in Gisenyi Beach and Kayonza were brilliant! We ended up switching to the Iris Guesthouse which was great!
Environmental Museum of Karongi
This was open! Although there wasn’t loads to see, it was interesting and the staff were very friendly and keen to show us around, with a lovely botanical garden on the rooftop. We also found that this was a great place to explore the area, we walked for a while, spotting birds and enjoying views of the lake.
We were very pleased that it was mentioned in the guidebook to confirm your return flight. Nonetheless, I would recommend allowing plenty of time to check in as we had great difficulty doing so (even though we had confirmed in advance and were near the front of the queue). For some reason, their system wouldn’t accept many of the passengers, which meant waiting in a long line with only one member of staff to process each check-in manually – luckily she was very witty and expert at dealing with what is apparently a common occurrence. We couldn’t check in luggage until the very last minute with our handwritten boarding passes.
Accommodation we highly recommend:
- Hotel Muhabura, Musanze
- Discover Rwanda Gisenyi Beach
- Rwiza Village, Kibuye – be sure to spot the fishermen singing at dusk & dawn!
- Kayonza Eco Lodge
- Akagera Game Lodge
- Iris Guesthouse, Kigali